Donna Summer had radios all across the world on fire in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Her breakout song “Love to Love You Baby,” (the sensual 17 minute moaning tribute to the female orgasm) released in 1975 began her ride of the disco wave, thus dubbing her “The Queen of Disco.” Only rivaled by the Bee Gees, Summer was one of the few remaining survivors still standing once disco took its infamous nose dive a couple of years later. Unlike many of her contemporaries of that time Summer had a lot going for her. First and foremost was an incredibly strong and beautiful voice. Powered by a gospel upbringing and propelled by the producing of talented collaborators in producers/songwriters Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte, she had a string of chart topping hits as long as your arm. “Bad Girls,” “Hot Stuff,” “I Feel Love,” “Enough Is Enough (No More Tears)” an incredible duet with the legendary Barbra Streisand, and “MacArthur Park,” just to name a few. The song that really put her over the top and introduced her to a movie audience came in the disco-themed comedy 1978’s “Thank God It’s Friday,” the mega hit, “Last Dance.” Summer won a Grammy for Best Female R&B Vocal as well as an Oscar (Paul Jabara shares that honor as the songwriter of ‘˜Dance”). Even after all these years your bound to still hear the hit in practically every club, dance party or prom when the final lights dim at the end of the evening. In 1983 she won the hearts of working women everywhere with the anthem “She Works Hard For The Money.” “Money,” moved the ‘˜Disco Queen,’ firmly into the future and into the genuine genre of R&B. The Disco Diva survived the 70’s quite in tact and with an incredible musical repertoire to boot.
She disappeared from the charts for a few years re-surfacing in 1999 with VH-1’s greatest hits live album and concert performance “VH-1 Presents: Live and More Encore!” This TV Special single handedly thrust Summer back into the spotlight reminding everyone how great she really was and still is. It brought back all those old memories and the hits that went along with them. The good old days? Hardly. But you have to admit, even secretly, when these songs once again grace the radio you’re singing right along at the top of your lungs. The good news for all us music fans is: Donna Summer is back with a new tour and sounding better than ever. For the 5500 fans at the Hard Rock Live this was not merely a time capsule that catapulted everyone back into the 1970’s. It was just one hell of a good time and had even the most timid dancers on their feet moving and singing as loud as they possibly could. Summer has always sounded amazing. Her voice is as strong and clear as ever. She’s never lost her chops and that’s a great thing. Her set starts off with an incredible rocking rendition of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony followed by an announcement that “There is a changing of the guard.” Two male dancers appear in marching band/military uniforms and proceed down the stage making way for the Diva’s arrival. Our first sight of Summer is regal and elegant; dressed in a purple sequined floor length dress accessorized with a drape. Ladies and gents, the Donna Summer show has officially begun.
For me the most surprising moment of the evening was when Donna announced she was going to ‘˜Start at the beginning,’ and went into a rousing version of “Love to Love You Baby,” (moans, grinding and all). Why surprising? If you’re a Summer fan you know she basically hasn’t sung this song live or anywhere for that matter since its original release in the 1970’s. The crowd was called to participate on the chorus, not the groaning. It was met with thunderous applause, hoots and hollers. Smooth segway into another crowd pleaser and chart topper “Dim All the Lights,” and another crowd tease, “You mean you’re going to sit all night?” Bam! “I Feel Love,” hits the airwaves. She did perform a handful of songs from her latest CD “Crayons,” which was actually released in 2008. The tune that really stood out for me was an acoustic version of “Sand on My Feet.” Beautiful song, presentation, and performance, a nice gentle touch at a perfect time in the show. Back to the hits. Calling three audience members onto the stage to play ‘˜Donna Summer Karaoke’ (they became the background singers) to the song “On the Radio.” And yes, she can still hit and sustain those notes, in fact, she never missed a beat. Her seven piece orchestra and two female backup singers are first rate and played tight as a drum. No sync machines, no lip syncing, just live and alive music. What a kick.
Since its rainy season down here in Florida, the rain, thunder and lightning were the perfect accompaniment to her duet “Enough Is Enough (No More Tears)”. Dressed in a red suit and carrying the same bright colored umbrella it was one of those moments that won’t be soon forgotten. Again another smooth and classic transition into the monumental “MacArthur Park,” one of my all time favorites. A seriously heartfelt and emotional moment came when Summer began to talk about a friend and musical legend that recently passed away. Speaking in a wavering voice and shedding a few tears she dedicated the song “Smile,” to Michael Jackson. Photos of The King of Pop appeared on the backdrop of the stage. The lights quietly dimmed, the audience erupted into applause; when Ms. Summer re-appeared in the spotlight it was party time once again. “She Works Hard for the Money,” “Bad Girls,” and “Hot Stuff,” all in a row. Talk about a triple hit threat; if these three tunes don’t get you on your feet nothing will. The encore, as the rest of the rest of the show was stellar. “Last Dance,” appropriately the last song and pinnacle of the evening is still an homage to the “Queen of Disco.”
Donna Summer proves that even at the tender age of 60 she can still hold her own with the best of them, probably even better. After all, thirty years from now who will you be listening to? I guarantee you they don’t make performers and singers like this anymore. Donna Summer is timeless as her music. It still puts a smile on your face and a kick in your step. After all, that’s what it’s really all about.